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Skyclad > Irrational Anthems > Reviews
Skyclad - Irrational Anthems

Hymns to Elves, Nymphs, and Other Magickal Nubile Creatures - 93%

bayern, March 23rd, 2022

My enormous respect for the Graeme English/Steve Ramsey partnership can never be expressed adequately, but with the new Satan album coming out next month, on April Fools’ Day to be precise, I feel compelled to have another look at their finest, most enduring, and most successful creation. This Sabbat they attended one night in 1990 impressed them so much that they snatched the main ritualist from it, Martin Walkyier, promptly, risking their lives in the process. But it was a risk worth taking cause this collaboration produced one of the most prominent acts in the annals of metal history.

The guys knew very well where they wanted to go with this initiative, logically retaining the thrash from the Sabbat and Pariah exploits on the first two instalments, to keep the old fanbase hooked, and when they started phasing it out from 1992 onward, it was a gradual smooth process, the folk elements seamlessly embedded into a sturdy solid, self-contained metal core. With albums and EP’s released every year since the band’s inception, the guys also became one of the most prolific outfits on the circuit by the mid-90’s, their reputation literally unshaken by the time the album reviewed here came out.

If the phasing out of the thrash, as mentioned before, was an illustration of an evolution, then the album here is another one. This is a more light-hearted, frolicer, more experimental Skyclad, the guys having voted to leave behind the brooding musical gravity and the environment-savvy messages (to an extent), opting instead for an uplifting roller-coaster ride full to the brim with instantly memorable hits. A gamble that pays off very handsomely, the folk motifs acquiring near-dance proportions on the infectious mood-setting opener “Inequality Street”, the definitive folk metal anthem, quite rational if you ask me, the violin racing with the guitars every bit of the way, this enchanting duel partly abandoned on the more aggressive material (“The Wrong Song”), but running rampant on the short merry-go-rounders (“Penny Dreadful”, “History Lessens”), the ones which mirror the opener and keep the jumping/dancing pogo in check. Said pogo never overtakes the entire space as sinister doom-laden cuts (“Science Never Sleeps”), academic semi-balladic epicers (“The Sinful Ensemble”), and elegiac nostalgic sing-alongers (“No Deposit, No Return”) diversify the exciting palette, the latter also welcoming the alluring jarring, dramatic shredders “My Mother In Darkness” and “Snake Charming”, the confrontational angrier riffage unleashed on those preserved for the “Sabre Dance”, yes, the mythical theme created by the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, here modified to a vehement speed metal racer which still invites the violin for a brief virtuoso pirouette.

Never a dull moment here, the guys revelling in the more volatile, less scholastic side of their oeuvre, thus producing their most memorable opus, a variegated saga full of vitality and… ok, irrationality, even if the latter segment can only be reflected in the looser execution and the more elevating aura. This is the good old Skyclad once again, delivering in spades even at their most meditative and tranquil (the lyrical balladic closer “Quantity Time”), Walkyier grabbing the opportunity to reveal his vocal bravado more fully, changing tone and pitch at will, relying way more on his clean more attached timbre than before, and winning in the end, as well as everyone else. And it can’t be any other way if you’ve bet on nature as your guiding light, trying to protect it any which way you can, standing firm, never betraying your pure pagan values, bathing in the moonlight with only the sky as your attire.

Blissful stuff… if only the band hadn’t overestimated themselves, and hadn’t decided to hit with a second outing nine months later, thus achieving a feat of releasing two full-lengths in one calendar year. Covers, re-mastered versions of old tracks, the new material quite often clinging towards the nostalgic balladic side, this effort did little to impress the audience who weren’t expecting such an introspective, meek sequel to the rousing collection of anthems here. It took some time to the guys to get back on track, as “The Answer Machine” was only marginally more boisterous, the downbeat lethargic mood eventually washed away with a few bottles of vintage whine… sorry, wine with the better 1999 opus. Walkyier stayed around for one more album, the fittingly-titled “Folkemon”, but the band carried on without him, still doing well on the circuit, maybe not as magnanimously as before…

feels like their connection with the forest magickal creatures has been lost partially… time to resume those clandestine pagan rituals, on a bright moonlit night, surrounded by soothing serenity, with only the sky serving as your…

This is bollocks! - 29%

robotiq, May 5th, 2020

"Irrational Anthems" is the nadir of Skyclad's career. This is the first album they made after leaving Noise (for lesser-known label Massacre). Like every other Skyclad record, I remember buying this one as soon as it came out (rabid fan that I was). I also remember trying to train myself to like it. Deep inside, I knew how disappointing it was, even compared to their lacklustre album from the preceding year ("The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea"). My view has only hardened with time.

The band's line-up has been depleted. Long-time members Dave Pugh (guitar) and Keith Baxter (drums) have gone, the latter went to join rock/indie band 3 Colours Red (who had some near-mainstream success at the time). This version of Skyclad is a slimmer band with fewer ideas. The first three tracks are confusing. "Inequality Street" is a poor choice to lead with, it has some lame chorus about chocolate boxes and never gets out of first gear (Quality Street is the name of a branded chocolate box in England). "The Wrong Song" is perhaps the most boring 'heavy' song they ever wrote. "Snake Charming" is more interesting and has a strong chorus, but there still is something lacking. None of these songs really follow from each other. This disunity and lack of identity sets the tone for everything that follows. The fourth track is "Penny Dreadful", a Skyclad classic, but for some reason it sounds sluggish in the context of this album (I'll explain later).

Things get much worse from here on. There is a boring instrumental ("The Spiral Staircase"), some nonsensical song about dictators in the pub ("The Sinful Ensemble"), and a pointless electrified version of the Khachaturian Sabre Dance. "No Deposit, No Return" is a better song, at least it is interesting lyrically and musically and has a recognisable chorus. The final third of the album is the worst stretch on any Skyclad record. "Science Never Sleeps" is monotonous, keyboard-laden drivel with some of Walkyier's worst lyrics about, I dunno, science being bad or something. "History Lessens" (no more puns, please Martin) is bouncy in the most annoying way possible, and at odds with the mood of the songs either side of it. "Quantity Time" (no more puns, PLEASE Martin) is a nothing slow song that lasts five minutes and must rank as the worst Skyclad song ever.

The production doesn't help. Objectively the sound is better than "The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea", but everything still sounds flat. The fiddle doesn't cut through (compare this with "Jonah's Ark", they are poles apart). Walkyier sounds muffled. He uses a softer, more plaintive vocal style more often than before. To be honest, he sounds tired and bored. The drums sound like tin cans. The drumming is problematic overall. I loved what Keith Baxter brought to Skyclad with his muscular and varied style. The session drummer here brings an off-beat, jazzier, detached style. He is technically competent but a poor fit, shown in songs like "My Mother in Darkness" and "Snake Charming". There is also a pseudo-Oriental feel to several of the tracks, which always sounds forced and opportunistic. Skyclad try a lot of different things here, but nothing works, and nothing sticks.

Forget the substandard songs, the flat production and the lack of musical identity. There is a much bigger problem with "Irrational Anthems" which is more difficult to explain. Everything sounds wrong. It has this gloomy, dreary, lifeless feel which isn't obvious until you've already listened to it too often. The music you hear sounds like an eerie imitation of Skyclad, some sort of malicious entity trying to ruin the band's name. I would liken it to an 'uncanny valley' effect, i.e., the sense of revulsion people feel when confronted with a lifelike but imperfect imitation of the real thing (often a problem with computer generated films featuring 'human' characters). This album sucks the life out of you and makes you feel dead inside. It leaves you with a cold sense of nothingness, whilst the real Skyclad would make you feel joyous and passionate. Slogging through fifty minutes of this is unbearable. "The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea" may have been tired, this one is undead. Even "Penny Dreadful" sucks here because it is a vampire version of "Penny Dreadful". The exact same line-up would release another album (Oui Avant-garde á Chance) a mere eight months later, brimming with energy, ideas, and a new version of "Penny Dreadful". This means you can avoid "Irrational Anthems" like it was smallpox.

Could've been better... - 60%

Goldblaze, June 18th, 2013

Being the sixth Skyclad album, the fact that it's the first average one is no big deal. The one that came before it, "The Silent Whales Of Lunar Sea", was already filler-ridden, but the remaining material (the good songs) was really really cool. This album suffers the same fate, albeit with somewhat more fillers. Some would say 'Clad had fillers on every album, but I beg to differ. The first four were top-notch without actual fillers, even if you liked some songs more than the others (who doesn't, it's a perfectly normal thing to prefer). This band being one of my favorite bands has nothing to do with the amount of fillers, but with quality of the actually good material. And in that department, Skyclad delivers with no competition. I have never heard of any other band delivering quality material with the force of a jackhammer, and yet having some abortions on every album past "Prince Of The Poverty Line" which prevent them from being on par with the first four. Maybe Judas Priest though...

The album opens in maybe the silliest fashion you could imagine. "Inequality Street" is one of my favorite songs in the world, with one of the best lyrics in the world, with one of the craziest hooks in the world. Seriously, mrs. Biddle should get a fucking ton of recognition for her work with Skyclad, and I am not sure who penned that melody, whether it was Ramsey or her, but it's pure genius. But the first few seconds consists of Martin singing the chorus a-capella, which is a very, very strange and risky thing to do in this music genre. Partly because metal was always about music primarily, or maybe because you would need some true vocal skills to pull it off, but a-capella is not something commonly heard in metal. This however, is the reason I worship Martin Walkyier as one of the greatest musicians I've heard of. Only him and this band of weirdos could pull it off. This is so good it needs to be heard. Of course, a Skyclad song is not a Skyclad song without the ever-charming lyrics pro-working class which I can't help but agree on:

Here's a real beggars banquet, a brace of rats in a blood stained blanket.
Meanwhile gentlefolk high in their chateau, dip silver spoons into black forest gateau.
Come lords and ladies - raise glasses in toast, to the "other-half" dying to eat.
'Cause they who receive least deserve it the most,it's a literal dead-end... inequality street.

Seriously, fuck you politicians and fuck you rich garbage putting down the working class. Who the fuck would make the country up and running if not them?

Of course, herein lies maybe the biggest reason I consider this album average. After a song like the opener, what could possibly top it? Well, "Wrong Song" doesn't do the work, but it is a nice song. It has a large rocking vibe, and a great solo. "Penny Dreadful" is also another Skyclad classic with another set of crazy violin melodies and crazy lyrics about what we metalheads consider the ultimate truth about our music – it's not made to sell big numbers, it's meant from the people for the people who enjoy it and understand it. "No Deposit, No Return" is a balladic track that I've always had a certain charm for, and "History Lessens" rocks in a similar vein to "Wrong Song", albeit not that intensive.

And that's more or less it. The other songs which I haven't mentioned are pretty much fillers in one way or another. I will not specifically call them out like I usually do, but they aren't as good as these five. Had this been an EP with these songs, it would've easily earn the rating of 90-95. But as it is, they are still here and this album is still a full-length. Now, the filler songs aren't really bad, they just feel like a huge letdown. After a standard set by "Inequality Street", "Penny Dreadful" and the other three (but those two primarily), it just feels dull. It's a good listen from time to time but I guarantee you won't be coming back to them as often as you will to the two champion tracks. If you want some more detailed description, I can say that for example, "Snake Charming" has a really drawn out chorus, and somewhat uninspired riff, while "Sinful Ensemble" tries to be a dark and brooding track but ends up like a plodding number. Also, "I Dubious" could be good, but nothing apart from the chorus is particularly memorable about it. "Sabre Dance" is useless and unnecessary, and a lot of bands (particularly those in the neo-classical niche) have already covered it either directly, or they have disguised it as one of their solos.

For Skyclad standards, this is an average attempt, but five songs are worth both your time and money. The filler material isn't overtly bad, and you may even like some of those tracks more than I did. In conclusion, it's probably the worst album by Skyclad. And it's worth sixty percent. Go figure.

Skyclad's Most Overrated - 66%

Sean16, April 23rd, 2009

I don’t like this album.

Of course, it has its moments of brilliance. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the comparison to its top-notch predecessor The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea is just too tempting, a comparison making it appear like little more than a weak sequel. Still, something is lacking. Passion. We’re Skyclad; let’s just sit down, and write some more songs. When we got enough of them, we’ll release our sixth album in sixth years.

This isn’t the only dull album from the British band. Though, if The Answer Machine might fall into this category as well songs like The Thread of Evermore, Catherine at the Wheel or Isle of Jura are obvious signs that latter album is carefully designed to be of a quieter, more melody-oriented approach – then it’s up to the listener to decide whether (s)he likes the shift or not. Here it’s dubious how much this work was supposed to sound purposely soft. If there are slow songs there is no genuine ballad, no predominantly acoustic track before the final one. Martin Walkyier’s voice has indeed become cleaner, but it’s been more a continuous evolution than anything else, and said evolution won’t prevent the last Walkyier-era albums from sounding heavier again.

Granted, there is this killer a capella opening leading to another of those immortal Skyclad anthems, Inequality Street. It’s amazing how even on its poorest outputs this act still manages to craft such lively and dead-on-the-spot first tracks. Granted, there’s the folk fest of Penny Dreadful, its crazy violin and lyrics about what we metalheads all love to despise, today’s music industry. Granted, there is another couple of more than decent tracks: No Deposit, No Return is a mid-paced, highly rhythmical song with a sweet melancholy vibe (though there’s too much electric guitar to call it a true ballad); I Dubious is a short grenade only waiting for the end of the as gentle as unexpected piano intro to explode – before vanishing almost as quickly, on another incredible chorus. The Wrong Song is the pretty standard bouncy, punchy Skyclad track you’ll find on every album, magnified by a very solid solo. This one may even feature the most aggressive vocals of the whole release but, don’t get me wrong – Martin, you’re out of tune, aren’t you?

That’s about half of the album. Strong classic Skyclad, the usual mix of folk melodies with metal heaviness, great bitterly critical lyrics, and musical variety. Now how much would it cost to admit once and for all the other half is, at best sub par, at worst totally disposable? I’ll forgive Snake Charming as, though it might show one of those annoying choruses which will surface again in The Answer Machine, though the drumming lines – who knows why – really get on my nerves, on the other hand the... snaky, creepy violin of the middle section is pure genius. My Mother in Darkness and History Lessens are cheap patchworks where folk and metal elements don’t mix as well as usual, leaving a nasty feeling of carelessness and incompleteness. The Sinful Ensemble and Science Never Sleeps are completely unimaginative tracks (both boasting incredibly flat vocal lines and riffs) the guys must have thought they could improve by more or less awkwardly sticking a couple of extra instruments and orchestrations in the background. You fool no one.

Further, one can only thank Skyclad for featuring so few instrumental tracks amongst their otherwise well-furnished discography, given the overall quality of those. If it may sound at first pretty cool to hear the guys jamming around a classical piece of work, that’s a charm which nonetheless vanishes quickly, and the interest of Sabre Dance with it. Coming to The Spiral Starecase I highly suspect Georgie Biddle to have suffered from a really bad hangover the day she recorded it, as never had her violin lines sounded so tired, repetitive and sleep-inducing. But wait, they just have left the worst of the worst for the end, the splendid five-minutes-long piece of jelly called Quantity Time. It must have been the whole band, vocalist included, which suffered from a hell of a hangover that time, unless they mistakenly recorded the track at half its initial tempo, who knows. In any case it’s atrocious.

Skyclad, then at the top of their productivity boost – and the Gods know for this band this means a lot – released two albums in that year 1996. Combining the best tracks of both could have eventually lead to their ultimate masterpiece we’ve all been dreaming of, but which is still waiting for its definitive incarnation. Besides, of the two the superfluous album isn’t what you may think. It’s Irrational Anthems.

Highlights: Inequality Street, Penny Dreadful, I Dubious

Contains some real Skyclad anthems - 85%

morbert, October 10th, 2007

One of my favourite albums since it holds a few of my favorite Skyclad songs. Skyclad had previously released an album, “The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea”, on which the balance had somewhat shifted towards metal with folk influences instead of folk-metal. The songs on that particular album were in fact good, but on ‘Irrational Anthems’ the balance was there again.

The best songs presented here is the holy quartet ‘Inequality Street’, ‘Penny Dreadful’, ‘No Deposit, No Return’ and ‘History Lessons’ which all three have marvellous lyrics, are very compact, have extremely good choruses and combine folk and metal in the most natural way.

These four songs alone are reason enough already to get this album if you like folkrock and folkmetal. Not that I’m saying all the other songs are bad. Not at all. These four however are by far the best. The folkmetal interpretation of the Aram Khachaturian compositon ‘Sabre Dance’ is entertaining although I do prefer the Toy Dolls version (Wakey Wakey 1989) over this one.

However, because not all songs share the same level of quality, I must be honest in my judgement. The earlier mentioned 4 songs would easily get 95 to 99 points but the album as a whole would ‘only’ get 85 points from me.

Skyclad's best offering - 98%

Muloc7253, July 21st, 2007

I've been a Skyclad fan for some good few years now, and after hearing near enough everything (including the Clan Destined demo, which had Walkrier on vocals) I have to say this is definately their most greatest offering. First of all, any Sabbat-type sound their older albums might have had are gone now, this is barely even thrashy anymore, sounding more of a blend of British folk music and modern heavy metal. Infact, there's much less folk parts on this too, besides the violin and the occasional melody.

Also, this has basically all of Skyclad's best songs...Inequality Street, Penny Dreadful, No Deposit, I Dubious, Science Never Sleeps, History Lessens etc etc. Not only that, but Walkyrier's mind-blowing lyrics (he really has to be the best metal lyricist of all time) are at their very best here. Really well written stuff like 'a simple matter of heads and tails/its their coin so they can choose/breed a beast with two of each/so in the end they cannot lose' (Science Never Sleeps) and 'now dont get CROSS/dont bite your NAILS/oh son of man your missions failed' (The Sinful Ensemble).

Everyone is at their prime here - the riffs are brilliant and heavy, the violin is just as high calibur as ever, as are the actual guitar solos, the production is fantastic and Walkier's vocals are just as harsh (yet desipherable) as ever. Other reviews described this as 'experimental' but I don't really see how.

In short, this is the best album from what is probably the best metal band of the 90's.

Skyclad Experiments A Little, But Still Very Good! - 90%

lordmaltreas, November 28th, 2006

Skyclad decided to take a more melodic and experimental approach; certainly not a bad thing, this album is rather enjoyable. For the most part, the folk music is still intact, and there are bits of thrash here and there. No, this isn't anything like their very early records, and it has more of a radio quality.

There are some hits and misses on the album, and what you might have thought was a miss at first might suddenly turn out to be a major hit. This occurred alot during my first spin, and those who might have been told this album lacks what the others had, should just give it another listen.

There is a great deal of experimenting here; take the song "science never sleeps" as a very good example of this. I also found it quite interesting that there were two instrumental tracks on this album, one being light and the other heavy. The main point is that the experimenting makes you want to listen to the album a bit more, if you're into experimentation, of course. If not, you may want to stick with the older material. Regardless; Skyclad has always done some experimenting, and in this album it seems they were at their strongest.

If you're a fan of the other records, and haven't heard this one, give it a try. Ignore all the talk until you've heard it yourself. You might find it a real gem.